The Beauty of Babyhood

Last Import - 141The baby stage is passing with incredible swiftness. Here are some things I love (shared here and not just privately, who knows):

His big grin when Robert picks him up. Even if he’s crying and feeling crap, he grins when Robert picks him up. Every night, Robert takes him up the stairs to bed and Oisín grins his head off up every step. I stand at the bottom and watch while he does this 😀 I follow slightly behind to watch his grin at a rackish angle, his fluffy fringe.

His cat noise. He sees them every day and is never bored. He gets night terrors and sometimes wakes up crying and completely blank. You just hold him, unrecognising, but then a cat pushes their way in (and they always do when he’s upset) and slowly he comes back to himself and starts giggling through his tears. He has a special sound for them, and a silly, exaggerated crawl, and Girl Cat is especially patient with him.

His total unbridled love. He just loves seeing us and I know it’s not forever. I know it’s uncomplicated by anything. Robert often lets me lie in, because he’s not only a total dote, but a wonderful dad who understands I need a bit of sleep more than most. And when I clamber downstairs, Robert says, “Here’s mummy!” and Oisín’s face lights up with a huge smile, he starts jumping and flapping and wriggling and crawls towards me. Recognition! Of the best parts of you. The loving, warm, uncynical parts of you. There you are. I thought I had lost you (I thought I had lost you). When we’re together, he looks from each of us with total wonderment and reaches his little hand out to our faces and strokes. Waking up at 6am can be shit when you have to go to work, but he’s so happy it’s hard to be too annoyed.

His massive gummy kisses. He swishes his head from side to side when he wants to kiss you, but when you say, “Kiss?”, he opens his big drooly mouth and tries to kiss you. They’re so clumsy and cute.

The way he falls asleep when I sing to him. I stopped singing for years and I’m not even sure why, when I love to sing. Since he’s been born, I’ve been regaining my voice, singing to adverts, to the radio, and to him. Tonight I sang a mix of songs while he groped for my hand, found it, and fell asleep.

The night wakings. He bought us to our knees when he woke up every half an hour. But as long as I get a bit of a lie in (which won’t happen when I’m full time), I like doing the 4am feeds. I volunteer for them. I miss him, he misses us. I’d rather he didn’t wake up (for everyone), but that hour, those hours. Love, love, love. Crawling, silliness, half asleep, a bubble. Quiet, quiet world, and here we are.-

(But you do odd things when half asleep)
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The babble. I can’t wait for them to becomes words, but his babble is adorable. It’s taking form, and tone. We can tell when he’s having a go at us, or when he’s happy, or curious, or being silly.

Trying to make us laugh. When he’d had enough of dinner earlier, I shook his highchair and pretended it was an earthquake, which he laughed his head off at. After that, he started rocking his chair back and forth and hooting, turning to me and giggling, waiting for me to laugh back.

The tininess. Tiny hands, tiny nose, tiny feet, fluff head. All of which I call him. His tiny hands in your big hand. His oversized lashes on tiny eyelids, heavy and lush.

I love his anticipation before Robert blows on his belly. Hands poised, big grin, giggle already forming in his throat, then a big guffaw.

I love his open trustingness (and it also makes me sad that won’t be forever). He has a bit of separation anxiety, but he loves, adores, people. Studies their faces, coos, giggles, chases, babbles. He loves to make friends. When we’re on a bus, he’s either patient and watching out the window, or cooing his head off at a nearby person, smiling.

And I love his reaction to his teddies. He hasn’t got a firm favourite, he cuddles them all. If we hold one out to him (too paranoid about SIDS to put one in his cot), he hoots and giggles and reaches out then bear hugs them. For some, he will run at them and then wrestle them in a cuddle while laughing.

Although it can be boring, I love that he has his favourite books. They always chill him out. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chu’s Day and Where’s The Cat? are his best ones. He pushes you to read them. Kneels and looks at your face for reactions and laughs. Sits with his downy head against your cheek and hums. Hands turning a piece of hoodie string. Eyes looking. Cupid mouth, and hum. Softness.

I love his good mood even when he’s sick. We’ve both been sick but for Oisín it’s been snuffly, coughing business as usual while I bitch and moan. He’s an example to me.

The privilege of watching someone grow from scratch. And scratch isn’t blank. I recognise aspects of his personality I saw at days old. Straight from the packet. In every aspect, in every way. It is amazing. I know some people find it boring, and I understand that, but to me it’s fascinating. To see a person- a person!- become, be, like, dislike, love, unlove, is amazing. It feels like an honour to be witness to it with someone you love so much, to guide them.

I love that he helps me rediscover things about the world and myself. I was a nature baby, an animal child until I was bitten. I look at the hearts of leaves and the sky again and share in the wonder. Find books and words and songs. And feelings. Stripping off the skin feelings that are often unbearable and a barrel wetness of emotion and anxiety that can be hard to cope with- separation, forever, whenever? It’s terrifying. But my darling.

And a depth of love for Robert I never imagined. Watching someone you know and love know and love, tenderness, endless gentleness, playfulness, humbleness. Love, love, love, everywhere. My love.

And there are more. Many. Much. How can I love someone so completely, utterly, totally? My babe.

 

(Love, love, my season)

 

 

My Drink and Drugs Heck- Being Off Medication, Out of Therapy and Back to Work.

I meant to write my therapy tales as a weekly series, but it ended quite abruptly. Not for any bad reasons, but because my therapist was off to Peru (!) and wanted to finish the sessions before he left- which would involve squeezing a few into a week, which was the week before I went back to work. I would rather have spent time with my son than with the therapist, so we had two more sessions and left it there.

Did I find it helpful? I’m not really sure. There were more talk of trauma but a lot of it was just going through the self-help resource website. And the trauma is a whole other thing, so it picked at those threads a bit and left them dangling. My panic attacks have reduced but they often do when I’m incredibly busy, and I still have my horrible intrusive thoughts, but what can you do? (Except more therapy!)

I’ve also finally gotten off Quetiapine, which means I’m now medication free for the first time in 14 years. Yep, I’ve been on various brain potions since the tender age of my brain still developing, and that thought slightly horrifies me. I literally have no idea who I would be without medication, and I will never have the chance to find out since my brain is most likely permanently altered by them. Hooray! I can pretty much chart my life with various medications- 16: carbamazepine, 17, olanzapine (and becoming huge), 19-22, Lithium and Depakote, with various antidepressants and antipsychotics added, 22-28, on and off Lamictal, 22-30 antidepressants in low periods, Quetiapine. My Drug Heck.

Quetiapine was the last medication standing and the one I’ve found hardest to come off due to being dependent on it for sleep. My psychiatrist has utterly denied it causes a) weight gain and b) sleep dependence. She almost dared me to come off it, saying it didn’t have any withdrawal effects (I’ve almost torn my skin off with itching when trying to get off it before, taken a fork to bed where I’d lay awake for a week), and I can’t resist a dare, so I did. I can’t take Quetiapine if I need to do baby night duty which I would do twice a week so Robert could sleep. One night I just didn’t take it the next one. Instead took some promethazine (an antihistamine) and put on my sound machine app to sleep, and it worked. Promethazine has mitigated the worst withdrawal effects but i’ll need to get off that, too. I had gotten down to 75mg of Quetiapine which is why I think it wasn’t so tough this time. In the past when I’ve withdrawn I’ve gone mental fairly quickly and ended up back on it. But it’s been almost a month now and I haven’t had to call the police because I thought there was someone in my house wanting to kill me, so I call that a success.

I don’t feel hugely different. I tend to get quite down this time of year, and I am a bit. My brain is a bit more buzzy and detuned but I can get out of bed in the morning which is such a difference. My gorgeous human alarm clock helps, but even without his glorious gummy face I think I’d be much better. I haven’t been late to work once since I started back, when I used to be late every day (I’m late to my own time so I can leave by 5pm, but that’s transport rather than me).

As for being back to work- there’s a whole other post in there, about how it feels being a working mother. Lots of emotions, guilt either way, when I am at work and when I’m not. I’m only in for 3 days at the moment because I have a lot of leave to use up, but I’m fairly apprehensive going back full time in the new year because I will pretty much never see him in the week. My awful commute means I often don’t make it home to put him to bed, and I miss him terribly. He’s such a beautiful wee thing, in a lovely stage where he’s a real, proper little person. He’s crawling everywhere, chasing the cats, laughing his head off all the time, babbling (lots of, “mamas”, but I know it’s just babble right now), loving being read to (he brings you a book and puts it in your lap to read)- just an utter, utter joy.  It’s nice to be amongst adults at work, I have some excellent friends at work, and I’m lucky to have a job I love and an understanding workplace. I would probably go mental being a stay at home mum, since I’m an introvert anyway and work forces me out. My social skills totally disintegrated when I was off work for four years. The baby is incredibly sociable, he seeks people out, smiles at everyone, makes friends everywhere he goes, and I’m not great at getting out when that’s what he needs.  And it’s not healthy for him to just be my life, nor I his. I want to set a good example, and I’m glad he’s growing up with his dad being at home, to teach him, well, so many things, but one thing being that women aren’t handmaidens. And I know there is drudgery and frustration (a lot of the latter, since he’s so frustrated himself with being a baby), and it is good to get a respite from that so I don’t mind it so much.

It feels almost unfashionable to say this, to not don my power suit and sing Eye of The Tiger. But I really enjoy being with him, much more than I ever expected to. He’s with his dad, so that’s great (we can’t afford childcare, and Robert quitting work made sense) but I’m always worried about how Robert is coping and feeling, too. I feel a bit like I’m letting everyone down, and I’ve got a case of imposter syndrome going on with work, my confidence is in bits. I’m sure it’ll get better and I’ll settle in, navigate the space between, but I had a bit of a cry at the station earlier after missing my second train, so it had taken me two hours to get home.

To this face. I mean, c’mon. You’d cry too.

(PS, I don’t smoke anymore either. Pass the yoga mat)

Family.

Family.

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Yep, I’m fat, have scarred arms and an incredibly happy son.

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Meeting Sugar the rat!

Meeting Sugar the rat!

He saw an alpaca for the first time.

He saw an alpaca for the first time.

My body comes with a trigger warning – Self harm and stigma

Hello!  I wrote a blog for Mind on self harm,  stigma and conflicting messages.

“Stigma” has two meanings. One is religious- they’re the literal marks on the hands of Christ at the crucifixion, and then bestowed upon those whom were holiest- and by extension, those who suffered the most. The other is social- a mark of disgrace. Self harm is both. It is highly stigmatised in society and within the health system, and it is a mark of suffering.

Suffering only has cache if it’s quiet, or, “dignified”. If you make people uncomfortable with your suffering, then there’s stigma. And therein lies the rub.

How do you combat stigma on something that makes other people uncomfortable?

How do you say people who self harm should be treated with kindness when their bodies are seen as attacks on others, to say that self harm shouldn’t be a problem hidden in the dark, when we do exactly that by not allowing representations of self harm?

I just have scars now. They’re very noticeable but also very faded.

Recently, I had a baby. In the postnatal ward, a midwife wrote that I was sitting on the bed holding my baby, “scars on arms”. That’s six year old self harm scars, as relevant to my medical history as a broken leg, and yet so very present, because they were, on a hot stuffy ward, visible. That’s what I was reduced to- “scars on arms”, the loving arms holding my newborn son, the arms of a new mother, a person, exhausted, elated, and ordinary.

If you’d like to rest the read,  it lives here.

Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun.

Therapy is ending soon.

Losses, fears, love- that’s basically it. Losses of things I loved- including animals (I know pets die, but mine in sudden, cruel ways I can’t go into here but which haunt me) and people. They all died lonely, premature, unfair, painful deaths. As soon as I really understood what death really was (which happened when I had another loss- my friend who killed herself when I was 15), I have been completely heartbroken ever since. Of what life is. Of feeling. Of finality. Of memory. I can’t bear it, any of it. That’s when the fear really started. I’d always been afraid of my parents’ death, i obsessed over it. But that was my first big loss, of someone I’d seen so recently, so young, so similar to me. We were all steeped in bullshit pop music mythology, playing with self harm. But she died. Alone. And I was unforgiven for something. I never got to explain or say sorry. And she died. Died. Death. Forever. My first cremation, too.

Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me. I have convoluted memories of my own childhood.  Different from my siblings’ because we’re different people. Everything is kind of mixed up, muddy. Then my own brain conspired against me, and I don’t remember a lot of my periods of illness, or the life that existed, inevitably, as life does, within them. And I had my own fractious relationship with the truth when I was young.  When I look back I realise it was because I found it so hard to be living the life I had, so created another, not even one that was easier, but one I felt could justify the pain I was in without ever being honest about what was really causing it (it still feels churlish and trivial, and now I am at the other extreme of exposing honesty).  Other people have memories I don’t, largely negative and embarrassing. My own bad behaviour haunts me not just because it hurt those it was directed to (or caught within), but because I know it has become part of the memory arsenal, that chorus always waiting to be summoned, or to butt in, uninvited, and to hurt. And I hate that. I don’t want to be someone’s bad memories. Maybe if I can be better now, I can replace it or erase it? And all I want is to give my son happy memories. Robert says I’m morbid, which is true. He keeps us in the present- he thinks, “experiences”, I think, “memories”. Already living in the past tense.

Memory is all we have, really. In the end, if we’re lucky, that’s all we have. Since my dad died I have dug deep and cling to the good memories I have of him. Further and further away. It’s hard to remember happiness. It’s not the visceral gut punch of despair, more the balloon in your hand that drifts away, bright and then small and smaller. Physical pain is hard to remember (I couldn’t describe now what my contractions felt like, even though I know they hurt), but emotional pain recalls itself constantly. So I often only remember the bad things clearly (and how bad they were), and it feels like they just happened. How jealous I am of people whose parents weren’t like mine and who they went out to lunch with and they didn’t die like my dad did. Even those who did die but in ways that people had some sympathy for (alcoholics dying, lowest of the low, fuck their children, the way we were treated by the medical staff, my baby brother and sister, fuck them forever and forever for it, for every person afterwards who turned their face away from me),  I have to unfollow people on Facebook posting happy pictures with their parents. Out at lunch! Having drinks! Doing normal things.

Memory is the twoheaded monster. My memories of my dad are awful, Sometimes they engulf me and I feel like tearing my skin off in agony that I can’t go back, can’t change something, can’t intercept this awful image and make it different. That was it. And his memories. I think that’s perhaps worst. HIs life which he didn’t deserve. That he was so desperately unhappy. That he died like he did, and that I knew he was afraid of it. And there are tears pouring down my face as I write this. To be afraid without comfort. Without hope. I wanted to be there when he died to be a hand or a face or a word, and I wasn’t.

Me being there wouldn’t have changed the outcome, he would have died anyway. But I wanted to do something, anything.

My friend Brendan died not long after my dad. He was an alcoholic too, was trying to recover. He died of an accidental overdose and my last communication with him was a voicemail he left on the Monday before he died asking me to meet up, saying he was nearby, just passing, are you in? get in touch, and I was so up my own fucking selfish arse I never did and then he died.

In therapy we talked about safety behaviours and my big one is having my phone on me and being always contactable. I have a three hour commute to and from work and most of it is underground. I went for a rare night out on Tuesday and had a panic attack on the train as I visualised (fear not feelings etc, but it felt like a promotion, it felt like destiny), Robert screaming over our baby, screaming and screaming and I wasn’t there. That if he died I wouldn’t be there. What would his last memory be? Be held, be there, be loved. Not alone.

(Howl)

This is hard to write. I’ll come back to it.

It’s also about fear. I used to have nightmares about my dad dying from his drink. But he did anyway. It happened even worse than I screamed about. So why should I trust my fears aren’t real? That the worst won’t happen? It did. All the worst fears I have (dying myself is a worst fear that will inevitably be true, but I fear dying young, leaving my baby, Robert dying, my baby dying, my mum being unhappy and dying) came true so why not these? It’s hard not to take my anxieties as facts. They happened.  And with Robert and my baby in particular, who are my husband and my son, I love them so fiercely, I think, my love must insulate them from suffering, from death. But it doesn’t and it won’t. How can I ever accept that? I know it’s a childish and possibly a bit narcissistic but there it is. When Robert has the slightest bit of discomfort, my refrain is, “What can I do? How can I fix it?”

We talked about my intrusive thoughts which often take the form of, when I’m speaking to someone, imagining them dead. And realising they have the same expression, that I am just superimposing my dad over everyone’s faces, just reliving it constantly.

We didn’t even get on that well when he was alive. We had some beautiful moments, a lot of understanding, and he was a good person. But I often hated him for what he put us through. I used to fantasise about him falling downstairs and breaking his neck just so he’d shut up. Stop shouting. Stop drinking. Then we’d be free. (I hate this freedom. I hate myself).

So the therapist talked a bit about trauma and how events can be too big for the brain to process so they never become memories. They’re always happening instead. A sort of PTSD. And how if you break them down they can be processed and become memories and stop being so present. I’m skeptical. I have some extra sessions before we quit but feel like we’ve pulled a thread and I want the jumper back. And I don’t want to do the homework. I don’t want to write it all down. I want to keep pushing it all out. I don’t want to break it down. I don’t want to break down.

I cried a fair bit after that session and Robert gave me a lot of hugs when I came home. And then abruptly I just stopped talking about it, as I do, Silly, trivial, depressing.

Yeah.

(Stay with the feelings)

CBT Tales- session 1 and 2

Hello! I promised to update you on my therapy tales. I had my first session 2 weeks ago and it was so uneventfully boring I didn’t really have much to say about it. It was just going over what we’d be doing. He said a few times, “you fit the model so perfectly”, which I gather was meant to be reassuring but irritated me somewhat. I don’t want to fit any models but of course, we all do in varying ways. Especially us mental health bloggers who literally define ourselves by the set of symptoms we fit that all adds up to a few words on a doctor’s monitor and our entire lives.

There was a lot of diagram drawing on how thoughts and feelings and actions all interact. Talk of safety behaviours, and my biggest is keeping busy all the time, mostly by fucking about online, never letting that thought creep in, having my phone glued to my face until the very second I fall asleep. And it doesn’t work, because in the second afterwards, panic creeps in. And I have an awful tendency to use my phone to look up the things that scare me- cancer, death, cot death, death, death, more death.

Session 2 was yesterday. I wrote this for A Day In the Life, a website which gathers the stories of a day in the life of someone with mental health difficulties. You can submit yours too over at A Day In the Life. The stories are anonymous but I don’t mind outing myself for the purposes of this post.

26 August 2015

Today is Therapy Day. I had about three hours sleep, which isn’t good on Therapy Day. In the days before my baby was born, my medication (Quetiapine) would make me sleep for twelve hours straight. Now, with an internal Mum Radar activated, I wake up when he does (multiple times a night), although I’m pretty uselessly doped up from drugs and it’s up to my husband to feed him. The one time I tried I dropped the bottle and spilled milk all over the floor, mumbling dream talk, his crying from the end of a long, dark tunnel. So it’s pointless lack of sleep, but lack of sleep nonetheless. The baby, now five months old, has decided that 6am is a brilliant time to wake up, so I’m up too.

Despite being up from 6am, I’m still late for therapy. The hours in between are lost in a haze. I eat, too much, to try and muster some energy. A jam bun and some toast. In my sleepiness, I’ve forgotten my homework and worry all the way on the bus that the therapist will be pissed off at me for it. It’s just CBT- I say, “just” because it’s not the kind of therapy that plumbs your heart like a dentists’ drill. It’s functional, rigid, and thus requires concentration I can’t summon on so little sleep.

This is only the second session. The focus is on my anxiety about death. Or, as we find during the session of comparing, “Theory A to Theory B”, the focus is on my anxiety about my anxiety about death. The problem, the therapist says, isn’t that we’re all going to die. That’s true and has always been true. It’s that my anxiety about it is controlling my life. So we go through what happens when I feel anxious. About intrusive thoughts and how we shouldn’t try to control them. The more we try to control them, the more we think them. The aim, he says, is to accept them. To let them intrude.

Towards the end of the session he says we’re going to do something which may make me have a panic attack. It’s to feel where my anxiety is, to hold an image in my head and to focus on it. I try, but all I can focus on is the ticking of the clock coming to the end of our truncated session. I try to hold an image of myself panicking but nothing really happens. He then talks about how the more we look at an image, the more our mind will demonster-fy it. It might become interesting, comical even. I’m not finding this to be true, but I’m left with the instruction that the next time I get an intrusive thought or feel anxious to stay with it, examine it, and not try to suppress it. Good luck, me.

I leave and wander around the shops, thinking of lunch. I’m trying to treat these sessions as little holidays from my life, and take an hour afterwards to drink coffee or eat before I return to the baby, leaving whatever was in therapy scattered along the cafe tables. I get the bus home and exhaustion floors me. I can barely hold my head up and resolve to go to bed when the baby does. We’re all tired today, we forego any attempt at dinner and eat burnt creme brûlée that Robert impulsively bought from Tesco.  I take my medication just after I put the baby to bed, and let it drag me into the blackness of sleep by 8pm. He wakes at 10.30 and I do too, stumbling with my pillow into the spare room while my husband feeds him. And then back to sleep. It’s just like the old days- I slept for 12 hours.

Therapy Tales Part 1- So You’re Terrified of Death?

(If you’re wondering where my previous post went, I have made it private as I’ve found this to be true. Thank you for all your comments and encouragement!)

So, I’m starting therapy for death anxiety (my medical diagnosis that led me to it are generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder but I prefer to think of them as ARGH).  Expect this series of posts to be even more introspective and self obsessed than usual, and for this blog, that’s saying something.

Two years ago (christ), I wrote a post called, “When Fear Becomes Phobia”. It described my ARGH FUCK panic around death and deadness, and how my world was getting smaller and smaller because of it.  Last year, I went to the doctor and asked for help. She was so sympathetic that she made me cry. Saying what an awful thing to carry around with me for 12 years (14, now) and she referred me to therapy. I found out I was pregnant, had an assessment and things didn’t go any further because I was suffering such crippling morning sickness that the 40 minute bus journey to the appointment was 1 hour 30 minutes because I’d have to jump off twice to vomit. Later on in pregnancy, I dispensed with such courtesies and just huffed up all over my lap, or into a friendly plastic bag.  Pregnancy was also pretty distracting- all my anxieties were focused on that, and I didn’t have the mental reserves to panic about death anymore.

My panic has returned, as it does. It’s not constant and strikes at night when I’m trying to sleep (and flip, I need my sleep!) It doesn’t disturb anyone because I sleep in the spare room (Robert does night feeds due to my medication). It means it’s quiet, private, lonely. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows.  It’s probably unsurprising. I had a baby, then I lost my grandmother, and it was my dad’s anniversary.  Catholicism ritualises death in a way that’s both comforting and horrifying. It makes you look at it, it makes an object of it.  She was in a coffin in the sitting room that my dad’s coffin was in, for days, with the same yellow, unnaturally smooth, chillingly cold skin that you have to touch to say goodbye. Their coffins, and every childhood Christmas. These things bring death bubbling back to the surface of your mind. It’s hard to close it out when you’re trudging up a hill behind it. Robert’s grandmother died the month after, and her funeral was like a trip to Argos. Closed, quiet, scripted, burned. I prefer the visceralness of Catholicism, even if it haunts me. It does at least give death, and life, some gravitas.

So, I’ve been referred back to therapy for it. My psychiatrist initially wanted to increase my medication but I refused. This feels existential, albeit obsessive. I’ve often been able to distract myself and try to be less up my own arse, but distraction is tricky and I’m introspective generally. It doesn’t need to be medicated away- that just makes me feel worse.

The assessment happened pretty quickly. A chat over the phone, which gave me a sense of pride that I didn’t have to list a litany of other issues. I haven’t self harmed in six years, my bipolar disorder (if I ever had it) is pretty well controlled. I wasn’t depressed, wasn’t struggling otherwise. I’ve come quite a long way. I knew what they’d recommend- CBT (*spits*) but I’m willing to give it a chance.

The therapist is called Sean, which means the assessment didn’t entail the usual 45 minutes of tuition in how to pronounce my name. It’s high intensity IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), so the sessions aren’t at the mental health team (thank bollocks, I used to work at my local one), but in an unassuming house with comfy sofas, pot plants and James Frey books that I had to stop myself openly guffawing at perched proudly on the Ikea shelves.

He asked me what I wanted help with so I explained. I forgot to bring the questionaire they sent me so went through some of it there. My depression score was low, as I knew it would be. People tend to assume I must be suffering from depression if I’m having panic attacks and anxiety.

Au contraire.

Depression is both a mortal enemy and an enemy of mortality. For me, it is ageless, timeless emptiness. It tries to kill me, and it kills the thing inside me that makes me afraid of it doing so. I want to die when I’m depressed.

So when I’m not depressed, I’m scared of that. It’s like being held under water and a peaceful acceptance of what it happening envelopes you, until the final second, and you kick, you convulse in order to be free, to be alive, to throw off the aggressor and then relive over and over at how close you came to drowning.

I do sometimes feel depressed because of the panic. I feel frustrated and angry with myself that I have panic attacks. I feel frightened and distressed by some of the intrusive thoughts I have (like when I’m speaking to someone and suddenly an image of them dead flashes into my brain, with hallucinatory vividness) and sometimes they make me feel like I’m going mad. But depression and this panic don’t come together, and that’s a big massive pain in the hole. The panic tends to be the worst during the happier periods of my life. I’m happy, hurrah, and then my mind goes, “This will end it, all of it, everything, and because it will end, this is meaningless, you won’t be here one day, any day, none of them will” and that’s just BLOODY FUCKING GREAT isn’t it. I don’t want to die, ever, because I enjoy my life. I’m essentially a happy person who wants to see what’s going to happen.  I want to be standing at the end of the universe with Robert and Oisín watching supernovas and planets and the sun.

(Rest your head)
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(Close to my heart)

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(Never to part).

Maybe it is partly a coping mechanism, the fear. Like pinching yourself.

He asked me if I had other anxiety- I do, social anxiety, but I’m dealing with that in my own way so I didn’t want any help which he accepted (and I think it’s tied up in this anyway).

Two things were said during the assessment that made me willing to continue. One was something stunningly obvious but that I had genuinely never considered. The therapist said that my kind of anxiety is, “idiosyncratic”. It’s not a common reason people come to therapy. That floored me. “Doesn’t EVERYONE feel this way?” I said. No, apparently not. At least, not to the degree they end up in therapy. So, is it that this is such an ordinary fear we live with it and are in denial, or am I the odd one for being periodically consumed by it?

Another was asking me where I think it came from. Nobody has ever asked me that before, and it’s not something I’ve thought about. The worst of my panic began when I was 15. That’s when it started flinging me screaming across the room. “Is that when your friend committed suicide?” Yes, it was- but the panic attacks started before then. Robert (who I first went out with when I was 14), remembers my panic on the phone, but it was more contained, and I was easier to comfort and distract.

It started well before then, when I was about 7 (?). Both my parents had mental maladies. I felt like they were going to die and I was terrified of it. I became aware they wouldn’t be there one day and I feared all the time it was the day. I used to pad into their room at night to check they were still breathing, then pad back and lie awake in the moon (just like I do now with the baby!). I realised I was going to die too, and sometimes would wake up screaming.  Death felt close, ever present, non abstract. I could only perceive it in my childish way, but I never felt safe, and I never have since.

Of course, that’s just a bit of it- I might be wrong, but I had never connected the two things before. I had a massive resurgence after my dad died, too, which is natural. But it wasn’t so much his death as knowing that he feared it. That kills me, still. I hate that he was afraid. If I could do one thing in my life, one magical thing, it would be to take that fear from him before he died.

He asked me what I wanted to get out of therapy. I don’t know really. Not to have panic attacks anymore. To be able to watch/read/listen to anything again. Not to have to ring in late to work because I’ve disintegrated at a funeral procession. To fall asleep. To be able to think about Oisín’s future. At the moment, I’m too scared to talk about it, think beyond tomorrow, in case he’s not here for it, or that I’m not. I’m petrified of something happening to him, and feel superstitious about it. It’s a loss I know I would never, ever recover from, be able to go on living beyond.  Pregnancy should have taught me the futility of this- when it seemed like there was bad news at the 20 week scan, my anxiety didn’t protect me. It didn’t cushion it, it didn’t make anything easier.  I want to be able to talk to Robert about him riding a bike, or going to school, or falling in love. I want to be here and present in the moment without thinking how it’s going to end. That it is. I want to be able to sleep without hours of panic beforehand. I want to be able to not feel regret about not living if I do die tomorrow. When I’m going through anxious periods I always feel mildly dissociated, not here. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want horrible flashes in my brain anymore. I don’t want my coping mechanism for the feelings of helplessness and inevitability to be nihilism, as it means I make unhealthy choices (like smoking, which will actively shorten my life, and thus leads to more panic attacks). I want to be present for myself, for my child. Life is so brief. And it is all.

He said that this will involve some unpleasant feelings, but that it usually helps. He says when it doesn’t, “work”, it’s often because people haven’t done the things long enough (bit of, “blame the patient” here, but I understand what he means as my last assessment person gave me a workbook I barely glanced at). I’m pretty frightened of what this is going to entail, and how hard it’s going to be. I’m aware it might mean it gets worse before it gets better, and I’m feeling pretty apprehensive about that. Shit scared, to be honest.

But I’m doing it. So let’s see where this goes. I’ll keep you updated!

Musings on Mumhood- Feminism, Love and Grief

Edit: for some reason this post is showing as May 18th. I wrote it on June 11, so go figure!

I’m currently writing this at 11.30pm, in the garden, where a fairly stiff breeze is blowing. This is the only place I know I won’t run to the baby if he cries (Robert is in the house with him, in case you think I’ve just left him). I’ve wanted to get some thoughts down about motherhood for months, but it’s been rather hard to write. Not just due to the new occupant of my lap. But because my feelings are hurricaning through me and evolving every day.

When I was pregnant, I finally kicked a nasty, expensive habit that garnered me more than my fair share of tuts and frowns.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Part of the reason I read these exploitative trashmags is that I love peoples’ stories. I don’t think anything is banal. When I was pregnant, I would walk down the street with a person in my body (!!!), thinking, “And this will be you”. The fact that he would be walking down a street lost in his own thought was absolutely mindboggling to me. I find it endlessly fascinating that there’s a story behind every face, that every person dwells within their own private universe.  In a way, there’s nothing more ordinary, and nothing more amazing.

In January, Eva Wiseman wrote an article in the Guardian- “The seismic changes of having a baby”. I read it when it was linked by various Facebook friends. The consensus being, “Big deal. Woman has baby shocker”. Commentary on how self obsessed her article was. Big deal indeed.

Something isn’t less special, less beautiful, because it’s commonplace. Every day is filled with unfathomable, unpredictable ordinariness. Dreams, seasons, love. And grief isn’t less black and deep and consuming because it’s something that happens to everyone, every day, everywhere. Nobody (well, I hope not) tuts and rolls their eyes and says, “Big deal. People die everyday”. So why do we do it when people are born? Why, outside the climatic yet somehow bland scenes of a romcom, is it less amazing?

It’s a peculiarly misogynistic view to hold, this woman’s world of babies and childbirth. How dull, how droll. How very trivial. From woman to mummy, from one judgement to another. (I saw a tweet from a supposed feminist about another feminist, scorning an article they’d written sarcastically saying, “Did she mention she’s a mother?” I blocked her). Women across the world are judged on their status as a mother, or potential mother. Being a, “real” woman is partly judged by your attitude towards or your ability to reproduce.  Our reproductive capacity is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of being female.  It’s when domestic violence often starts or intensifies. It’s a visible, very visceral sign of your sexual activity. You can die because of it- through pregnancy, through childbirth, or through not being able to have a baby. Women are murdered because of it, women kill themselves over it. And the first year postpartum is one of the riskiest periods in a woman’s life- where suicide is the biggest killer. Yeah, this shit matters. This is not trivial.   The people I’ve spoken to most about parenthood have been men. It’s applauded for the dads to say how amazing it is to have a child, but for mothers, there’s ridicule. So what.

I can understand a distaste of the oddly consumerist and competitive side of parenthood. Who’s having the “easiest” pregnancy, to the easy baby, to the best pram, the milestones. That’s trivial. But sharing these things is part of the culture of parenthood. Part of life itself.  Sharing the darker aspects- feeding problems, illness, relationship problems, postnatal mental health, postnatal physical health, sexuality, the huge shake up of your identity, your body, your mind (hormones are real fuckers), wifework and the distribution of labour and for some, regret- is only just beginning to find the light. And so it should. As I said, this shit matters. Motherhood is a feminist issue.

The whole experience has stripped me down and shaken up my values. I love my job, I care about my job, and I never thought for a second I’d not want to go back to work. I used to joke that I’d leave the maternity ward and go to the pub.  But I would happily stay off to look after the baby.  And the Daily Mail would write that shit as, “How Women Are Turning On their Careers for Babies”. Which is bullshit. I’m going back to work, and I’m not a different person. This is a new part of me, a new spoke on the wheel.  It’s frustrating sometimes, exhausting often, but I never knew how easily it would come to love someone, to do those frustrating, exhausting things. How fulfulling it would feel to change a pooey nappy because it means I could kiss his toes and make him laugh, and how much joy I’d get in those tired hours. I had prepared myself for “not feeling it”. People warned me about it. After all, it makes sense. Here’s a person you’ve never met, you don’t really know, who, for a while, can’t give much back. It might take time to love them. And it did- about 10 hours. And since then my love has grown and grown to strain my heart against my chest, to spill into the world, to everyone in it.

And it frightens me. It terrifies me. Throughout pregnancy, I consciously tried not to connect. I felt at every stage I could lose it, and he could die. I tried to protect myself by keeping myself at a distance. Which is very hard when the distance goes as far as inside yourself.  In the quieter moments with Robert on his nightshift I’d play him songs (him! It was him all along in there) and talk to him and feel his kicks in response. And it got harder and harder not to connect when I’d have my panicked morning frappucino (cold and caffeine, the perfect way to get your baby to move) and he’d give me a few pissed off kicks. But it was terror, almost constant terror.

I feel the same terror, mingled with bliss, never a hope of separating one from the other. I’ve sat, so many nights, with his downy head under my chin and cried over it. My fear of death has come back tenfold, because the absolute best case scenario is that I won’t see how my son’s life pans out. (Did my dad feel this way about us before he died anyway?) From both me and Robert, and through both me and Robert, there will come that inevitable terminal separation. Forever and forever from the one who I grew with my body. And that we will break his heart one day, and mine breaks over and over again.

Now my life seems to be measured in his days and weeks and months and years, and not my own. And it feels so very small. The grief is raw, and I try to centre myself. I grieve each clothes size, each little thing that was there that’s already gone- gone! forever! The way he’d sigh after finishing a bottle. Moro! Squealing with delight at Saturday in the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Not being able to reach Monkeys in his bouncy chair. Being so tiny, and now not so tiny.  I used to think babies were hams. That’s the word I used- they’re angry and pink and wibbling. But every day! he does something new. He’s babbling now, giving us long lectures in his language we’re only beginning to understand. He rolled over this week and was so shocked he burst into tears. First, a second of silence, then he caught my eye and his lip began to wobble. I picked him up and called to Robert upstairs. This week, he also stroked a cat. He’s just noticing them, particularly fascinated by their hovering question mark tails. I held his hand- his tiny hand- and pressed it onto her fur. He unfurled his fist and began to laugh- a belly laugh (I understand that phrase now, as I held him he bellowed, and I understand that one, too). And it was utterly beautiful. This little moment of discovery in the world, and as near to death I feel I am sometimes, I am born, again.

That probably sounds evangelical, and I am, in a way. I can see why people worship their children.It’s okay to, as people. The problem is when we see them as extensions of ourselves, which they aren’t. From the second they’re born, they’re their own person. Which is frightening in itself, with all that being a person entails. I don’t know how I’m going to cope the first time someone’s horrible to him. When he’s hurt or disappointed. For the first few weeks I was afraid to take him to places I wasn’t sure were child friendly as I knew I’d disintegrate if I saw a tut, or someone mumbling about bloody kids. They’re part of our lives, part of our society. There are some places they don’t belong (we tried to take him to someone’s birthday dinner, thinking it’d be sedate, but I was on the train home 30 minutes later) but that’s okay.

Another reason why I cry is his childness makes me ache for mine. In as much as he makes me wonder and look at the world anew, my small self is huddled inside, nerves as exposed as my heart feels. When he cries- from hunger, or fear, or loneliness- I feel the fear and loneliness of my own childhood. I rush to make it right, to put arms around the lonely one, to wipe away the tears and soothe the fear. And now I feel every child’s fear and it means I can’t watch or read as much as I used to. It causes me physical pain. I find myself crying at the big things- news reports- and the small, FUCKING ADVERTS. (Fucking meerkat bastards). I feel like a layer of my skin has been sloughed off, and sometimes, I want the hardness back. Give me back my cynicism (it’s still there, somewhere). It’s agonising sometimes. Sometimes too much.

I’m not always walking around in a blissful daze. He can do my head in, too. The sheer relentlessness of it is a shock. This person (person!) is utterly dependent on you and it’s so daunting. And grinding. I miss the days of not worrying whether cot death has taken him (my head plays these awful scenarios, screaming), or worrying that something else will (please don’t take him, take me instead). Today, he was driving me up the wall. He’s going through a Baby Phase, you know, baby stuff. More of the mindblasting world to make sense of. I set my alarm so I could be there when he woke up (as Robert sleeps with him, not me, due to medication). He gave me this gorgeous smile and started kicking his legs excitedly and laughing. Which was a good start. And proceeded to go through the day refusing to nap, going on baby lectures, hating to be held, wanting to be held then hating it, lots of bottles, and a three hour battle to get him to sleep. Then he does that thing- that melty heart thing which is why you eventually don’t care, have a second wind and want the whiny exhaustion to last forever. A three hour bedtime and finally get him to lie down, pick up a book and he coos in anticipation, holds his hand out for me to hold, giggles and makes cute noises with rapt attention the whole way through. Then a few songs which he smiles at so much I gave up with his dummy. Lie next to him and he sleepily gazes into my eyes and rests his little hand on my cheek. What a babe.  This was the book.

book

It’s given me more love for everyone, and unlikely allies have emerged. People I didn’t know really cared have been on the end of Twitter, Facebook, a phone, with blankets, toys, little hats, clothes. He’s bedecked in the love and the kindnesses of others, and it’s beautiful. He’s an adored and doted on nephew and grandchild. It’s given me a new love for my husband, too. He was amazing throughout my pregnancy, throughout the labour, and he’s a wonderful father. Utter, utter gentleness and love, and pride. Watching them together is a delight. Just him talking- about any old thing- makes Oisín giggle and whoop with delight. He smiles so broadly when he sees him, they adore each other. Robert’s better than me at taking him out, he shows him the world, shares with him so many things. He’s going to be the stay at home dad, and it’ll be hard. The whole stay at home thing isn’t set up for fathers. But what a role model he will be. He’s just a baby, just a child, but the world will try to teach him he’s a boy, and what a boy is supposed to be. And Robert will be there to teach him that a boy can be gentle, and kind, and loving, silly and emotional, as so many boys are, but told they shouldn’t be. He will grow up with the very best boy to teach him. And I hope I can do teach him well, too.

So, my little baby, when you can read, and if you ever read this, I love the hell out of you. Sorry for the sort of swear word but I’m sure you’ll have heard a lot of those by now. It’s because you’re half Irish, and this is our punctuation. And I’ll love you, whoever you are (and I’m getting an idea, my curious, giggly, reachy little Bean) and whatever you do. Nothing you do will ever make me not love you. You’re pretty ace. Now go back to sleep. xxx

PS: I don’t read trashmags anymore. They make me cry.

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